Road Trip! Time to take a day off and explore. Destination: Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, Elmendorf, Texas. I left Houston, just before 7am. Sunrise was my first photo of the day. Elmendorf is about 20 minutes south of San Antonio, Texas and a three hour drive from Houston. I enjoy traveling west in the morning, the sunrise is behind you without any glare in your eyes.
My first stop about 2 hours later was Buc-ee’s in Luling Texas. It is a destination. They have everything… fuel, food, gifts, and clean spacious restrooms.
On to San Antonio, and south to Elmendorf, Texas. Once off the freeway, I traveled down a country road for a few miles. I passed not one, but two, splits in the road built around some very old oak trees. Nice to see that the road was diverted around the trees instead of removing them.
A simple sign above the gate leads the way up a driveway lined with olive trees.
Saundra Winokur, the proprietor and owner of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is true pioneer. A native of Texas, who has through sheer grit, hard work and determination, created a thriving olive orchard right here in Texas. I’ve spoken to Sandy many times over the past 5 years but had never met her in person until today. She is charming, authentic and inspiring. She transformed this old ranch into something wonderful that folks from all over come to visit.
She employees a bustling staff of 15, including Ranch Manager, Miguel Villareal, Orchard Manager, Roberto Villareal and Executive Chef, Cathy Tarasovic. As you drive up the hill on the left is her private residence. A charming cluster of three separate buildings, the main house, the studio and the guest house built with a combination of stone and cedar. It’s like Tuscany… Texas style. The landscaping is beautiful with a blend of stone, pottery and native plantings. And yes, there are olive trees in her front yard.
This is a working ranch. Adjacent to the homestead are cattle pastures, majestic oaks, and old cedar gates. It was very peaceful walking around taking pictures. So quiet, at times, all you could hear was the breeze just blowing through the trees.
Olive trees are everywhere. In clay pots, planted in garden beds, potted for sale in the nursery and planted in an orchard that spans 40 acres. Sandy’s websites provides detailed information about all of the varieties they sell. Her favorites?
Hard to say, of course, I like Arbequina, but I also like Pendolino, Picual and Manzanilla.
Over the hill and off to the right is a cluster of rustic buildings that is the heart of the olive ranch. The original gift shop and office and a production building.
I was greeted by Scruffy. As Sandy later told me, “He was dropped off at the gate a year ago in June and came down to the plant shed. Everyone took bets on how long it would take him to sleep at night in the house…. Less than a week.”
A new two-story building is under construction that will be the future home of a brand new expanded gift shop and offices. Visitors are welcome at Sandy Oaks Tuesday thru Saturday from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Saturdays feature an orchard tour and olive oil tastings. Sample their olive oil, olive leaf jelly, and all the other delicious food products from their pantry. Tour starts at 11:00 AM.
Overlooking the patio, is a fenced area where young olive trees in containers are growing. Sandy Oaks sells trees retail and wholesale. Customers can purchase these in sizes from 6″ pots to 15 Gallon containers.
The orchard is about 40 acres and is lined with mostly Arbequina, Mission, Picual, Pendolino, and Manzanilla olive trees. Of the 11,000 trees, 7,000 are of the Spanish variety, Arbequina. There are 32 different varieties planted all over the orchard. Sandy continues to experiment with varieties to find which ones are best adapted for her San Antonio climate.
While observing the orchard, Sandy noticed that a cluster of olives trees around an old oak were growing much more vigorously than the rest of the orchard planted at the same time. Apparently, the robust growth comes from a colony of mycorrhizal fungi on the roots of the oak tree. Sandy is so convinced of the beneficial relationship she has incorporated the fungi into the potting mix and compost they put around the trees.
The production facility is where they hold cooking classes and package their specialty foods. It was very interesting to see where the olive oil is made. At harvest time (about the end of the summer), workers pick the olives from the orchard. They are sorted and most are used for making their own blend of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They offer a variety of olive related products from handcrafted soaps, spa and skin care products (made in part from olive leaf and infused olive oil) to delicious goodies for your pantry including “Olives with a Texas Accent!” ™).
My visit to Sandy Oaks was delightful and I will be back for the opening of the new gift shop next year. If you are in the San Antonio area, it is definitely worth a visit. To learn more about Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard visit their website.
I asked Sandy for some parting words of wisdom for others who may be inspired to plant an orchard.
I think one has to love the business. Since it is an agricultural business, one has to be risk tolerant. It is very hands on, very much like raising children. – Sandy Winokur
Be sure to check Sandy Oaks website for upcoming events. Each month, she hosts an event and serves complimentary tapas. Wine, beer and olive leaf tea are sold by the glass.